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‘Bonanza’ Patriarch Remembered as Off-Screen Family Man

September 12, 1987 GMT

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ Lorne Greene ″was Ben Cartwright to the end,″ Michael Landon said after the death of his former ″Bonanza″ co-star, who portrayed the firm but compassionate father on one of TV’s most popular series ever.

Greene died Friday at age 72 at St. John’s Hospital, where he developed pneumonia while recovering from an Aug. 19 operation for a perforated ulcer.

The cause of death was respiratory arrest followed by cardiac arrest, said hospital spokeswoman Mary Miller.

With Greene when he died were his second wife, Nancy, their daughter, Gillian, and twins by his first marriage, Linda Bennett and Charles.

″He was Ben Cartwright to the end. He was ready with no complaints,″ Landon, who had visited him in the hospital, said in a statement.

″The last time I saw him he couldn’t speak,″ said Landon, who portrayed Cartwright’s youngest son, Little Joe. ″I took his hand in mine and held it. He looked at me and then slowly started to arm wrestle like we used to and he broke into a smile and nodded and everything was OK. I think he wanted me to know everything was OK.″

Services were scheduled Monday at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, said Roxanne Lawrence, Greene’s secretary.

Greene, a barrel-chested man with white hair, bushy black eyebrows and a deep, resonant voice, began his career as a newscaster in Canada, where he was born to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

After ″Bonanza″ finished its 14-year run, he took on different TV roles, playing a detective in ″Griff,″ a space commander in ″Battlestar Galactica″ and a fire chief in ″Code Red.″ He appeared in recent years in dog food commercials.

But Greene was most closely tied to his image as widower Ben Cartwright in the old West, owner of the vast Ponderosa ranch and stern ″Pa″ to three headstrong sons - Adam, played by Pernell Roberts, Hoss, played by Dan Blocker, and Little Joe.

″I think the biggest thing I remember about him is how he, and particularly how he and Michael Landon started to live their roles,″ said David Dortort, creator and producer of ″Bonanza.″

″There was a real family feeling on the show.″

Landon would seek advice from Greene in a real father-son of relationship, Dortort recalled. ″They weren’t acting,″ he said. ″The camera wasn’t on them.″


Greene had planned to perform again as Cartwright in a television movie. ″Bonanza: The Next Generation,″ will begin production as scheduled on Oct. 26 at the Lake Tahoe-area site of the original series, Dortort said.

Unlike the sometimes stern, humorless Cartwright, Greene was full of good spirits. He even built a replica of the Ponderosa ranch house in Arizona, complete with a staircase that led to nowhere.

″Bonanza″ made Greene a multimillionaire. He invested in real estate, and ran thoroughbred horses at Santa Anita and Del Mar race tracks in Southern California.

Greene was a little-known actor in 1959 when he was cast for the NBC series. After a shaky start, ″Bonanza″ zoomed in popularity and was seen by an estimated 400 million people in 80 countries.

The series was so popular that Jack Gould, then-television critic for The New York Times, wrote in 1965:

″President Johnson reputedly has enough respect for the ‘Bonanza’ popularity not to schedule a speech that could clash with such decisions as might be simultaneously reached at the Ponderosa.″

NBC canceled ″Bonanza″ in January 1973, but the 431 episodes will be seen in reruns for years to come.

Roberts quit the show in 1965 and Blocker died in 1972 of a blood clot after a gall bladder operation.

Greene, who was born Feb. 12, 1915, in Ottawa, based his character on his own father, Daniel Greene, a maker of orthopedic boots and shoes.

″I don’t know whether I could ever match my father as a person, but as an actor I try to be like him,″ Greene once said.